Sugar 'n' Spice – Diary September 2008

Mon 1st Sept

A large piece of junk came up with the anchor when we pulled it up, then we watched some seaplanes scooping water in Ajaccio Bay but it was another mostly motoring trip to Propriano. A very bustling town with a ferry port, & a one way system that has been outgrown. We had supper in one of the quayside cafes & then joined a group from the neighbouring boat who were dispensing drinks on the pontoon. It made an entertaining evening.

Tues 2nd Sept

We decided to hire a car for the day & set off to see the local sights. First to Filitosa, a large site of prehistoric menhirs, with rock shelters on a wooded hillside overlooking a grassy plain with more menhirs & a quarry. The menhirs are unusual in that they have some details carved such as facial features & weapons. Leaving there we did a loop high in the hills with magnificent views back towards the coast & then back through Propriano to the hilltop town of Sartene. After exploring the narrow lanes of the old town we ate crepes in the square, before heading south again to two more megalithic sites. Both were fair hikes from the road & the first we visited, Palaggiu, is said to have 258 menhirs, the largest concentration in Corsica – we didn’t count them, but there did seem to be quite a lot! The second had 3 sites, two of rows of standing stones & the third a most magnificent Dolmen – one of the largest we have seen.

Wed 3rd Sept

A short trip (5nm) to anchor at Campomorro.

Mostly there were the usual comings & goings of an anchorage, but every so often some dolphins made a fleeting appearance.

We took a tea time stroll up the hill behind the anchorage & went round the Genoese watchtower with its commanding views. A feature of the Corsican coast is these numerous watchtowers, but few allow access.

Thur 4th Sept

Just about to up anchor when dolphins raced across our bow & into the bay. Could the fish farm further in have anything to do with their apparently regular presence?

There was a heavy swell & not much wind so it was a mostly motoring trip for the 26nm miles to Bonifacio arriving early afternoon in the long narrow inlet of its natural harbour.

Then it was climbing the steps to the Haute Ville, around & through the old town & past the cemetery to look at the view from the tip of the heights. We had supper at one of the harbourside cafes, taking in the hectic & bustling scene.

Fri 5th Sept

Left Bonafacio for 7nm trip to the Lavezzi islands (the French islands between Corsica & Sardinia & part of the Maddalena nature reserve). We had barely anchored when a trip boat arrived & as we could see others approaching we unrolled the genny & departed for Isola Cavalli, Liscia (near Porto Pollo) Sardinia. Another 7nm.

The beach was busy with swimmers, wind & kite surfers, but miraculously as dusk started to fall it was empty.

Sat 6th Sept

Mid morning departure for the 4.5nm to Cala Gavetta marina, La Maddalena.

Explored the town & finally tracked down the source of a permit ‘to navigate’ in the Maddalena nature reserve in a travel agents – the Park Office was closed (most of the time, not just the weekend). A fish supper at a resturant on the prom, followed by an Italian gelatti at the harbour.

Sun 7th Sept

We had to do a lot of work with the warps to get out of our berth because of wind direction, then another boat started pulling out towards our side. Fortunately the word STOP yelled very loudly seems to be universally understood, & his brakes worked, as we had nowhere to go. Drama over we started to explore the islands. 1st stop Cala Corsara on Spargi. Early afternoon that got busier so we moved on, just unfurling the genny. At Cala Spalmatore we were told the moorings were private & there would be a charge (we thought we’d covered the charges with our Park permit!) so we carried on to Cala Portese on Caprera, where we did pick up a Park Authority mooring. (14nm). It was a pleasant place, but the wind picked up overnight, as forecast, creating a swell.


Mon 8th Sept

With the wind still blowing we made a mid morning departure & motored around Caprera & west as far as Capo Orso on the mainland, before unfurling the genny & heading into the Gulf of Arzachena & anchoring at Cannigione at its head. 10nm.

I had spent 6 weeks there 20 something years ago, but failed to recognise anything much, apart from the Bay itself, because of the amount of development. There is a marina where before there were just a few moorings, & villas & hotels along the coastal strip. We had drinks on a Gibsea 43 (Blondie) owned by a British couple, Alan & Lesley, from the West Country, who were planning to overwinter in Cannigone.

Tues 9th Sept

After a walk on the beach we left Cannigione, motoring to charge the battery, & headed for Porto Cervo. A friend from home is racing his Swan at Porto Cervo sometime early September & we had seen large racing fleets around in the distance so we hoped for a chance to meet up with him. However the anchorage at Porto Cervo was buoyed off – presumably for the racing fleets & there seemed little chance of finding a space there, so we unrolled the genny & carried on southwards down the coast. We anchored behind Isola di Porri in the Gulf of Olbia, off a quiet beach probably used more by locals than visitors. 21nm.

Wed 10th Sept

Left the anchorage & went to look at Isola Tavolara. This is a huge flat topped island that dominates the horizon for miles in all directions. Part is occupied by the military & the rest has restricted access as it is a nature reserve. The beach certainly looked lovely but at 10am trip boats were already delivering visitors, so it was soon going to be fairly crowded.

We went on our way with a force3 beat. After one tack we realised the log was under reading, but Doug was able to clear the obstruction. Off Punta de la Batteria we saw several dolphin in the distance. Early afternoon we arrived at the marina for La Calletta, identified by a tower on the point. 27nm.

It was a busy little town, but much less developed than further north & seemed to me much more like the Cannigione I had known years ago. We went to a resturant near the marina in the evening & then walked round the Tower, more of a scramble really.

Thurs 11th Sept

Took the bikes north to the little town of Posada, built on a hill sticking out of the coastal plain. It was a nice ride close either to the beach with its pine tree fringe, or inland lakes with herons & egrets. Also to our surprise a hooded crow – we had only seen these in Scotland before, but according to the bird book their range is a diagonal down to Italy & eastwards. Posada itself was quite a find, a small town on a hill topped by a mediaeval town, & crowned by a castle, with views for miles around.

Fri 12th Sept

Left La Calletta with a cloudy sky & no wind. The wind tempted us to try sailing once or twice then died away again, or went on the nose. Early afternoon we sailed in circles to keep the wheel in one position while Doug adjusted the autohelm which was squeaking. Some dolphin chose that moment to appear, but after one had done a nice jump abeam of us they decided we didn’t know what we were doing as we couldn’t steer straight & promptly departed. Half an hour later the wind went again & a few large drops of rain fell. About tea time we arrived at Santa Maria Navarresse just north of Abartax. 42nm, lots of motoring. There was a large discrepancy between the electronic chart & our GPS. We continued to notice this further down this coast.

After checking out the town (up a hill!) we found a pizza bar, with a lovely view over the bay & along the beach, for supper.

Sat 13th Sept

It had rained heavily overnight, but with clearing skies we decided to chance a walk in the hills. We had a route from the Tourist Office which took us up on narrow tracks through scrub & woodland & a few small fields. Our destination was Mt Oro - 569m but a little bit more with the ups & downs of the route, described as ‘facile’. It was a steady climb along the land side of the coastal ridge, passing several rocky buttresses which the map showed as being used for climbing. The night’s rain accentuated the lovely herby smells. Then high up, looking across the valley to the central mountains, with no sign of human habitation around, we were picked up by a cat. Apparently young & very skinny it insisted on getting under our feet while escorting us to the summit, even with a detour when we lost the way. Every effort to discourage it was treated as a game, & eating our sandwiches was rather fraught. It finally departed on the way down at about the same point on the path where it had found us, while we made our weary way back to the boat.

Sun 14th Sept

Woke to rain & with a windy forecast so it was a morning of round tuits & when the weather cleared we walked south along the beach & the watched some climbers on a buttress that formed the end of the northern harbour wall.

Mon 15th Sept

Leisurely departure – motoring, no wind - from Santa Maria with several different weather forecasts (we’d chosen the one we liked!). Late morning the wind arrived, westerly on the beam & building quickly. A reef went into the main, soon followed by rolls in the genny & the 2nd reef, then as it continued to build to force 8 the 3rd reef went in & most of the genny was rolled away. We hurtled south, & I played the main for all I was worth, & ran out of string a few times! Mid afternoon we reached Porto Corallo with an alongside berth & several helpful marineros who wanted to know what the wind had been like ‘out there’. A trip of 32nm & we’d done the last 22nm in 2 hours – fast, hairy!

Porto Corallo was in the process of rebuilding/development so was not exactly prepossessing although there was lots of space. It was backed by a campsite with a few extra facilities such as a small shop. We never made it to the nearest town a couple of miles away. Again there was a discrepancy between charts & GPS.

Tues 16th Sept

Another leisurely departure & again the choice of forecasts, & guess what, we picked the one we liked. Yesterday’s reefs came out with a nice NWesterly 3 to 4, then a hour later we were motoring in virtually no wind. Lunchtime brought a force 5 on the nose & one reef went back in. Mid afternoon we rounded Capo Carbonara & as we beat up the Gulf of Cagliari the wind picked up to a 6 & another reef went in. As we neared Cagliari we realised we were overtaking a very high tech smallish boat, which then finished a race at a committee boat & headed towards the inner harbour. We headed to the Darsena del Sole, a small marina just to the east of the harbour. 49nm. The boss man sported a very bushy beard & spoke only Italian.

Wed 17th Sept

Walked into Cagliari, & found the harbour full of a fleet of smallish racy Benneteau’s (like the one we’d seen the day before) dressed overall. They were racing from Marseille to Istanbul, with various stops including Cagliari. We later heard that they were Figaros, racing single-handed, & that the next start (from Cagliari) was recalled because one of the skippers went overboard in the bad weather & the rest were searching for him. They rescued him OK, & the race restarted a day later.

We wandered round the Botanical gardens, complete with Roman cisterns & caves as well as plants, then climbed to the higher town & ‘elephant’ tower with its commanding views. Then on further past the Cathedral & St Pancreas Tower to the Archaeology Museum – mainly featuring bronze statuettes from Sardinia’s famous nuraghic (bronze age) culture. Finally back down to sea level via the huge flight of steps of St Remy’s Bastion & back to the boat for a provisioning run & a meal out in the adjacent fish resturant (on a ship).

Thur 18th Sept

Departed the marina for the fuel berth, & then another beat in the Gulf of Cagliari as we headed SE. Again the wind picked up to a 5 & a reef went in, & then mid afternoon we stopped in Villasimius Marina, just east of Capo Carbonara. 25nm.

Went for walk along coast past an old fort, towards the cape, but had to turn inland & discovered a huge salina, Stagno Notterie, then another beach as we were on an isthmus, very surprising & pleasant.

Fri 19th Sept

Took the bikes up the hill to the town of Villasimius – a busy place straggling along the single major road, & returned by a different route closer to the coast. Later some serious rain fell, at least it washed the decks & we’d managed to hotfoot it back from the Marina offices just in time to batten down.


Sat 20th Sept

A windy morning, so some round tuits, then in the afternoon we went to the beach by the old fort (Fortezza Vecchia) for a swim. With showers still looming we went to eat in the Marina Restaurant – very average & very few people there.

Sun 21st Sept

Left Villasimius initially sailing, but the wind was fickle so the engine went on & off again at fairly regular intervals. We thought we saw a distant dolphin fin as we cleared the Cape (Carbonara) & later made a ‘cocked hat’ with 2 ships, but otherwise there was very little traffic.

Mid afternoon we passed the 3000nm logged on this year’s trip. I must try to get the ‘boss’ to work out rhumb line figures as the log is lower than actual.

Then we discovered a small tear near the luff of the mainsail, so that meant a hasty stitch & stick job to stop it spreading, & we decided the cause was chafe caused by the friction of the reefing pennants.

As dusk fell there were flashes of sheet lightening turning the sky white, very odd as there was no sound of thunder & no very obvious storm clouds, but anything that might have produced the same effect, such as lighthouses or volcanoes, were too far away to be the source. We were motoring as the wind was too light to push us through a nasty ‘stopping’ swell at any useful speed.

Mon 22nd Sept

In the early hours the wind picked up & we sailed with the genny poled out. Then to our amazement there was a thump & a flying fish landed at Doug’s feet. We got a photo before returning it to the sea minus a few blue scales. Quite an impressive ‘flight’ as our topsides are fairly high. Later in daylight we could see blue scale marks where other flyers had hit the topsides & not made it on deck.

Mid morning we approached the Egadi Islands off NW Sicily. We had a look at Favignana Harbour which was fairly crowded with fishing boats & ferries & decided that where there was space there was not really the depth for us, so we went round the island & anchored off Punta Longa in the early afternoon. 162nm.

Tues 23rd Sept

The wind (from the SE) was picking up & making the anchorage uncomfortable so it was a prompt departure, on a beat with 1 reef in the main from the start. The wind increased so another reef & some rolls to the genny went in. Then came black clouds, a force 5 & heavy rain, then the wind dropped to SE2 (still on the nose) & the rain continued, so we motorsailed. Midday, still with pouring rain we arrived at Mazara del Valo harbour, where the harbour master appeared looking very dapper in white trousers & holding an umbrella, & directed us in to a very tight spot – in fairness it did appear to be the only one remaining, & we were glad of it. He didn’t look quite so dapper by the time he’d caught our warps & we’d all shoehorned the boat into the gap. A very wet 28nm, & also one of the most expensive harbour berths we have come across.

Later the rain abated & we had a look round the town which serviced a large fishing port. There were some very old & attractive buildings, but while some had been renovated some were urgently in need of some tlc.

Wed 24th Sept

Left Mazara del Valo motoring until we rounded Cabo Granitola when we could lay the course. From mid morning on there were lots of trawlers about & we needed to take avoiding action several times.

Mid afternoon we arrived at Sciacca Harbour & tied to a pontoon managed by one of the local clubs – Il Corallo, Circola Nautico. They were very pleasant & helpful, introducing us to the President & vice President (their equivalent to Commodore etc) & even giving us a bottle of wine. 32nm.

Went to one of the harbourside fish restaurants in the evening.

Thur 25th Sept

Spent the day in Sciacca, firstly some provisioning in a conveniently near supermarket, then exploring the town. The main part of the town is up various steep roads & steps to a grand terrace/promenade overlooking the harbour & sea – the obvious place for lunch. It was a fascinating old town with churches, little squares, medieval walls & gatehouses & still further up the hill a ruined Spanish castle, but perhaps the most interesting building was the Town Hall, an ex Jesuit College & its church. This made for two huge enclosed courtyards on different levels, opening on to different streets & linked by a stone staircase. We also went to look at the thermal baths, but only a modern pool seemed to be accessible, not the Roman ones I had read about.

On returning to the harbour we found an English J109, called ‘Squibs’, berthed alongside. Her owner, Ken, was en route to Malta to take part in the Middle Sea Race, due to start in a few weeks time

Fri 26th Sept

A prompt departure from Sciacca, motoring until a west wind filled in about mid morning. Around lunchtime we diverted towards Porto Empedocle, to try to get a view of the temples at Agrigento. Although they are supposed to be visible from the sea we weren’t at all sure we had them in view. The port itself was having a new access road constructed (diggers, rubble, dust etc) so any thoughts of stopping there were soon abandoned. The wind soon picked up to a 6 & we put a reef in, & around tea time we arrived at Licata & moored next to ‘Squibs’. 52nm.

Relaxing with the ‘cuppa’ we were treated to a very close view of a kingfisher who was using a waterpipe on the quay as a fishing perch.

The harbour master was a Geordie, living in a campervan at the end of the quay.

The town itself was rather run down, although there was a useful chandlery, & it is a very convenient jumping off point for Malta or Gozo. The Squibs, Ken & his wife, Betty, came on board for drinks later on, & we learned they had met & lived in Hong Kong & now split their time between there & Port Solent.

Sat 27th Sept

An early start to the day as Squibs, who intended to leave at 7am, got hooked on our ground lines ( the lines leading out to a chain or blocks to hold boats at right angles to the quay), with one between his keel & his rudder. It took a lot of heaving & easing of all our lines to extricate him, & we were very grateful to a helpful Sicilian who appeared on the quay, took a shore line & pulled or eased as requested.

After all this we decided to get underway & set sail for Gozo. We barely had the sails set when the wind died & we resorted to a mixture of motoring or motorsailing. There were a few ships about & some flying fish & something, possibly a dolphin, dived in the distance. Early afternoon some light rain came through & the visibility dropped so the radar went on. Fortunately the vis was not too bad as the local fishing boats did not show up on it at all, presumably as they are wooden! We also encountered a lot of what looked like floating boxes which were trailing longlines. They seemed to be anchored despite our depth sounder being ‘off the scale’, & we assume they are rounded up periodically by the fishing boats. Early evening we arrived at Mgarr harbour, which was fairly full, so we rafted to a large Aussie flagged catamaran. 67nm.

Sun 28th Sept

First job of the day was to do the ‘arrival’ formalities, a change to have no language complications. Then it was ‘watch for a gap’ on the regular visitors pontoon so we could stay a couple of days. The gap materialised as various boats departed & we duly moved, to be joined in an adjacent berth by Squibs, who had also had to raft overnight.

Close by was the local ‘taxi’ service to Valletta – by seaplane.

Then it was a stroll round the harbour area with its typical vividly painted fishing boats, the seaplane only pontoon, & curiously (to us at least) a horse being bathed, & relishing it! Next, a lunch of local cheeses & meats at a quayside bar watching the ferries from Malta come & go, before climbing the hill to the little town of Mgarr, with its imposing steepled church overlooking the harbour.

Mon 29th Sept

We took the bikes to the main town of Victoria. Once up the steepish hill out of Mgarr we had views over most of the island & especially the huge dome of the church at Xewkija. In Victoria we strolled round the Citadel (more super views) & the squares, narrow streets & market place that make up the town centre, before doing a supermarket provisioning run.

For our return route we decided to visit the Ggantija temples to the north of the main road. These date back to 2800 BC & it must have been a major feat to move & shape the huge stones of which they are constructed. For us it meant more hills to cycle up & a rather tortuous rough road back. Still, I think it was worth it.

Tues 30th Sept

A late morning departure from Gozo for the couple of miles to anchor in the Blue Lagoon off Comino. It was a grey cooler day, so the water was not so ‘blue’, but the trip boats were still arriving in droves & disgorging their passengers onto the little island. A few hardy souls lay on the beach & some even braved the water. In the afternoon we unfurled the genny & moved on to Gnejna Bay on Malta, where we anchored close to the local fishing boat moorings. 8nm.

There were a few people on the beach & what might have been a fashion shoot, & on one side of the bay rows of fishing huts with a few fishermen & some boat repairs on the go. It was a pleasant evening with a few lights showing along the row of fishing huts, & in scattered hamlets on the surrounding hills. The local Malta forecast at 18.20 said ‘cloudy with rain at times, possibility of isolated showers which may be thundery later on. Wind E-SE 3/4 locally 4’. We noted the ‘thundery’. Gnejna Bay faces West. Later the thunder started to rumble around.